THE world’s navies are set to clash in the waters around Hawaii – fueled by a mixture of traditional fossil fuels, plant extracts and politics.
Some 160 kilometers northeast of Oahu in the Pacific Ocean, a fleet of the world’s warships leave thin trails of smoke on the bright blue sky.
The operation, part of maneuvers involving several thousand sailors as part of the world’s largest naval exercises in waters off Hawaii, was at the center of a growing battle involving defense spending, foreign oil and alternative biofuel supplies.
Australia is being represented by the frigates HMAS Darwin, HMAS Perth and the submarine HMAS Farncomb, along with Orion and Wedgetail surveillance aircraft and a platoon of soldiers.
The dozens of air and sea vessels surrounding the Nimitz – including helicopters, fighter jets and destroyer ships – were running on a biofuel blend that can be substituted for traditional fuel without any engine modifications.
Navy officials say using the alternative fuel helps the military address weaknesses. Operations that use more than 50 million gallons (189 million liters) of fuel each month rely on petroleum, making the U.S. military heavily dependent upon foreign oil.
Market volatility causes Navy spending to swing by tens of millions of dollars each time the price of a barrel goes up or down $1.
“We’re not doing it to be faddish, we’re not doing it to be green,” Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said aboard the U.S.S. Nimitz on Wednesday. “We’re not doing it for any other reason except it takes care of a military vulnerability that we have.”
He added, “One of the things you better do as a military is take care of those vulnerabilities.”
But the plan to use a 50-50 blend of alternative and petroleum-based fuel has hit a snag – Congressional lawmakers who bristle at spending time and money chasing alternative energy at a time when defense spending is being cut and traditional oil is cheaper.